My Letter to the Fashion-Challenged Class of 2017

I woke up this morning feeling very reflective and flooded with a host of emotions. Today will be the last time I witness the graduation of my babies at the American School of Bombay. My last class. Earlier this week, the honey badger (Miel) shoved a camera in my face and asked me to deliver a message on the spot about what I will remember about this class.  For some reason this was a much harder thing to do than in years past. Typically, it was relatively simple for me to boil down my reflection into a simple phrase or even a word. Three years ago, the "Dream Team" graduated. For better or worse, this was the class that was literally stuck with me as a teacher from 9th grade to 12th grade. They were my dream team because they were entirely a product of my efforts in science from beginning to end. They were also my first class of 9th graders at ASB. On the day of their graduation they presented me with a book that they had all signed.

It was quite fitting as they were my babies and they were all leaving me to begin their lives. The separation anxiety was palpable.

For my next group I was able to boil it down to the word "nice". In excerpt from my graduation speech that year, I said:

Every class seems to have a collective character. Ask any one of your teachers and they will give you a few adjectives that describe each class... not all of them are flattering. For the last two years, one word has always come to mind first when I describe the class of 2015 and that word is nice. You have no idea what a great compliment this is. Every year I have a pile of letters of recommendation to write. Each one has to be unique and embody the true character and potential of a student in the best possible light. This can be tricky. One thing that we are always asked to do on rec forms is to list a few words that describe each applicant. What words would come to mind when people describe you? Are they accurate? Do they reflect how you want to be seen by others? If not, now is the time to change perceptions. Every year after I finish all of my recs, I like to make a word cloud of my rec letters to see what words pop up the most. This year, in particular, I am happy to say that empathy was a top contender.

The class of 2017 was much more difficult. I struggled with this as I read through my news feed this morning rife with recent posts of commencement speeches that delivered tears with my morning coffee. Finally, while watching Lauren Duca from Teen Vogue deliver a commencement speech to Simon's Rock college at Bard, it hit me. It wasn't what she said in her speech, it was who she is and what she has accomplished that finally helped me to find the words I have been searching for. Back in December Teen Vogue showed up in my feed numerous times because of an article about the gaslighting of Donald Trump. Now these posts weren't coming from Teen Vogue directly. Give me a break. I pride myself in my carefully cultivated news feed. I focus on reading pieces from journalists on the front line exposing truths often at a cost, a disruption of the public narrative...sources that force humanity to ask the hard questions. Why then were people shining a flashlight on Teen Vogue of all sources. Over the next several months I found myself sharing posts from Teen Vogue, apologetically at first, until I stopped apologizing and Teen Vogue became part of my cultivated feed.

So what does this have to do with the Class of 2017 you ask? Bear with me. This is my blog post after all. When I received my new crop of IB students two years ago, there was a lot of buzz. "This is one of the strongest classes academically." Now, I had taught many of you in 10th grade, and that might not have been the first descriptor that came to mind. Not to say that you weren't strong students, it just wasn't the first word I would use to characterize you all :-) There was however, a palpable confidence brewing in my new group of 11th graders, most likely due to this reputation that you had all become accustomed to hearing. What I can say is that for many, this was a false sense of confidence that in the end it became your greatest challenge moving forward through the IB program. At this stage you are all probably thinking, "I can't believe Nukes is going to lecture us on our last day of high school!". I am not. You see the two words that characterize this class on your last day of high school are transformation and confidence, and I am not talking about the confidence that gained from your parents or teachers telling you that you are great. I am talking about the confidence you gained from facing your challenges head on and having the grit and determination to transform yourselves into the people that you are today. This is far more noteworthy. You had to work hard to transform, and it is more likely to stick with you for a lifetime. During the senior recognition ceremony, this was evident as each and every one of you crossed that stage and shared your takeaways from ASB. You have developed as a class into adults that have the skill sets to pursue your dreams and hopefully enhance the lives of others with all that you have to offer the world. Your confidence reaffirmed my confidence, and I know that you are all ready to face whatever the world throws at you.

I remember being struck by this when asked to choose one person from each class to give a science award to about a month back. I have always struggled with this on a personal level, but this year was even more of a struggle. An impossible task really. First of all, at some level, the majority of you experienced significant transformations as learners and human beings over the past two years in my course, each equally critical, important, and noteworthy. Each eliciting a deep sense of pride in me that cannot be measured by a piece of paper or a public nod. Like Lauren Duca, I feel these "trophies" are meaningless when compared to your own self-awareness and sense of personal accomplishment, growth and achievement. This should not be defined by that piece of paper. In my speech to you on Wednesday, I made reference to a book called "I'm OK, You're OK". To me an award sends the message that one person is OK while 17 others are not. This could not be further from the truth, and it is the last message that I would want to deliver as I send you off to your next destination. I hope that I have articulated to each and every one of you just how much of an impact you have made on me as your teacher, mentor and friend.

In her speech, Lauren advised:

Stop waiting for someone to tell you you can, and do the thing you want to be doing. Beyond that, the practicality: You can’t plan for opportunities, you can only be sure you’ll be ready when they happen to show up. Steve Jobs nailed this part in his commencement: The dots can’t be connected before they appear. What I’d like to give you today, is a renewed focus for thinking about the process of getting between them. The future is full of landmines, so stop wasting time trying to avoid them, and focus on running head first into the good stuff. Promise yourself you’ll power through the bull shit.
This can be done by following three simple guidelines:
Number 1: Never let anyone tell you who you are.
Number 2: Embrace the greatest version of the person you know you were meant to be.
And, Number 3: Work your goddamn ass off.
...Living with intention ... capitalizes on the moments of greatness, unlocking your ultimate potential, and leaving little room for regret, no matter how many boxes get crossed off that checklist. You decide how you define yourself, and that definition doesn’t need to include reference points from LinkedIn.

Over the past two years, many of you have experienced such significant transformations, I hardly recognize that 10th grader I met three years ago. This is something unique to this class. It is also the most admirable. I know. It didn't happen to me until much later in life, so this gives the class of 2017 an advantage over most as you diverge off to your new adventures. Having said that you are all still working on your masterpiece. As I send you off with this newfound confidence, I ask only that you write down Lauren's second piece of advice and post it somewhere as a reminder:

Embrace the greatest version of the person you know you were meant to be

...and forge ahead into the unknown with your new, well-deserved sense of confidence. Just don't forget that from time to time you need to "sit down and be humble" so that you can hear what the world has to say to you as you continue working on your masterpieces. I promise, you will get there a lot faster if you do.

Thank you for making the final part of my journey at ASB one that I will treasure for a lifetime.

All the best...